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What are functional drinks?


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Functional drinks can support a healthy lifestyle and help to maintain certain body functions in the normal range. However, the regulations for the “benefits” are strict: the requirements are regulated in the EU Health Claim Regulation. Find out what functional drinks really are and which ones score on the market.


Functional beverages are known to use certain ingredients to help maintaining certain body functions in the normal range - for example, a normal function of the immune system or mental performance. Ingredients such as ginger, turmeric or ginseng are associated with certain health and wellbeing benefits due to their active substances.

However, the consumer's perception and the mere “image” of an ingredient say nothing about the actual supporting effectiveness of the active substances on the body's functions. It’s a fact that various foods and supplements only have effects on the body if contained in certain quantities.

Covid-19 increased the need for functional beverages

Consumers were showing increased interest in products offering immune system support in recent years, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only intensified the demand. Mintel promises, this segment will continue to grow steadily throughout the pandemic and beyond. While sales of beverages supporting weight loss tended to decline, the overall market continued to grow, especially with regard to those beverages that contribute to maintaining the function of a normal immune system.

Source: "Nutrition Drinks US", Mintel, January 2021

The year 2020 was also a good one for sports and performance drinks: With sales of 10.7 billion dollars, the Corona year topped sales from 2019 by six percent. Expert estimates assume that this segment will grow by 26 percent to $ 13.5 billion by 2025. Sports drinks make up 83 percent of the market, while performance drinks make up the remaining 17 percent.

Source: Sports and Performance Drinks, US, February 2021

Drinks with extra protein are also predicted to grow: According to Mintel, 30 percent of adults believe that products with a high protein content are healthier than others. Above all, protein is often associated with weight management and muscle building, but vegetarians and vegans also need to pay more attention to their intake of plant-based proteins.

Adults that are increasingly avoiding excessive sugar consumption is another clear trend: “No added sugar” is one of the top claims with which foods and beverages score today.
Source: “Functional Drinks: Inc. Impact of Covid-19”, April 2020, Mintel

EU Health Claim Regulation for consumer protection

In order to protect consumers from “false promises” and false expectations of functional beverages, the EU Health Claim Regulation was issued for food and beverages: This serves to define permitted health claims made on foods, other than those referring to the reduction of disease risk and to children’s development and health and is a legal requirement for food manufacturers.

The Health Claim Regulation regulates in detail which amounts of certain ingredients such as vitamins, minerals or protein must be contained in food and beverages in order to be allowed to use a health or nutritional value claim in the labeling, presentation or advertising of food. It also regulates what this claim may be. The possible effect of an ingredient must always be seen in the context of a normal body function and as a support and must not be presented as "improving" - like a dietary supplement or even a drug.

Source: “Functional Drinks: Inc. Impact of Covid-19”, April 2020, Mintel

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What really works? The EU Health Claim Regulation creates transparency

In the long term, the transparency and clear communication based on the health claim regulation strengthens consumer confidence and thereby also serves to protect them. Biotin, for example, may only be used if the minimum requirements for a biotin source according to the regulation are met. The following may then be used as claims: "Biotin contributes to normal psychological function", "Biotin contributes to the maintenance of normal hair" or "Biotin contributes to the maintenance of normal skin" etc. For a better overview of the claims, here are some examples of the use of popular health claims for certain active substances – including the conditions that have to be fulfilled:

  • Ingredients: Iron & Vitamin C
    Indication: Iron and vitamin C contribute to the reduction of tiredness and fatigue.
    Conditions: The claim may be used only for food which is at least a source of iron and vitamin C as listed in the regulation.

  • Ingredient: Activated charcoal
    Indication: Activated charcoal contributes to reducing excessive flatulence after eating
    Conditions: The claim may be used only for food which contains 1 g of activated charcoal per quantified portion. In order to bear the claim information shall be given to the consumer that the beneficial effect is obtained with 1 g which should be taken at least 30 minutes before and 1 g shortly after the meal.

  • Ingredient: Zinc
    Specification: Zinc contributes to the protection of cells from oxidative stress.
    Conditions: The claim may be used only for food which is at least a source ofzinc as listed in the regulation.

  • Ingredient: Vitamin D
    Information: Vitamin D contributes to the normal function of the immune system.
    Conditions: The claim may be used only for food which is at least a source ofvitamin D as listed in the regulation.

and many more.

Source: Regulation (EU) No. 432/2012 of commission from May 16, 2012

Fruits and added vitamins are the most popular

In any case, consumers of functional foods are very loyal to their products: According to Mintel functional drinks enjoy habitual use, with the majority users consuming these drinks at least weekly, regardless of specific benefit.
The majority of buyers also prefer several ingredients in one product, which according to the Health Claim Regulation, under certain conditions and with specified formulations, can be described as "functional" in this form and can thus have certain effects. Almost half of consumers (46%) choose beverages with two or more functional attributes, and people are equally likely to seek one functional benefit from a drink as they are four or more (19%).

In general, all ingredients that contribute to the normal function of the immune system in functional drinks have clearly gained through and during the corona pandemic. When it comes to the frequency of consumption in beverages and thus in terms of consumer popularity, fruits, being an ingredient in beverages with a health-related claim come first (32 percent), followed by added vitamins (31 percent), electrolytes (28 percent), added protein ( 25 percent) and added vegetables (19 percent), to name just a few.
In contrast, 40% of consumers do not use drinks with any of the listed functional ingredients, which reveals a sizeable portion of consumers who are not especially interested in functional beverages.

Source: “Functional Drinks: Inc. Impact of Covid-19”, April 2020, Mintel

Functional drinks: fruits and added vitamins most popular

While 79% of consumers feel food is the best source of vitamins and minerals, 76% of adults currently take a vitamin or mineral in supplement form. According to Mintel functional drinks may offer a sense of compromise to consumers seeking more variety in the way they meet their dietary requirements.


Hydration of the body as the main benefit

What do consumers expect most from functional beverages? According to Mintel, hydration of the body clearly ranks first among the sought benefits of functional beverages with 39 percent. 32 percent of consumers are looking for an energy boost, followed by an immune boost and calming effects with 21 percent each. Ranking next are the hoped-for digestive support with 18 percent, the improvement in mood with 14 percent as well as the anti-inflammatory effect (13 percent) and the support of sleep (12 percent). Consumer interest in supporting cognitive functions (9 percent), improving beauty (7 percent) and anti-aging (7 percent) through drink applications is in the single-digit percentage range.

Source: Functional Drinks: Inc. Impact of Covid-19, April 2020, Mintel

Functional drinks are intended to support certain body functions as part of a health-promoting lifestyle. Young people and parents remain the core target group of functional beverages, while the older target group of 55+ still has great potential to be developed. Trust is also a key to success because, according to Mintel, consumers also have doubts when it comes to the supportive benefits of beverages: Only 28 percent of adults trust the claims made to be correct. Proper use of the approved health claims can help with this.

Functional Drinks: Inc. Impact of Covid-19, April 2020, Mintel
Commission Regulation (EU) No. 432/2012 of May 16, 2012
"Nutrition Drinks US", Mintel, January 2021


Functional drinks, under certain conditions, contribute to maintain certain body functions in their normal range. The EU Health Claim Regulation determines the application of these statements in detail and is legally binding for food and beverage manufacturers. Especially the young target group and parents prefer to consume functional drinks, and the market has grown again over the past year: In particular, drinks that contribute to the normal function of the immune system, but also water-based drinks for hydration, are increasingly on consumers' shopping lists. Sports and performance drinks are also facing significant market growth in functional beverages, according to expert forecasts.

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Julia GuglerAuthor


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